Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the irreversibility of writing: Procrastination and writer's block—Part 2. The unexpected cause

Even without understanding why, writers know that writing's traces, like Internet postings, are often indelible. Knowledge—that writing without enough time or ideation can set you back—is often the immediate source of blockage. Forgetting what you know is, consequently, one way to surmount a procrastination problem. Assigned a difficult project and subsequently experiencing fallow, the writer may profusely thank an advisor bearing the message, "get anything down." The get-anything-down writing panacea won't improve the quality of the project subjected to it, but as permission quieting conscience, it can augment sheer quantity.

Why assume there's a cause of procrastination specific to writing, when procrastination itself isn't? Good question. First, writing as subject of procrastination—sometimes taking a unique form, blockage—differs from most tasks agents procrastinate about, in that most procrastination concerns unpleasant tasks. Second, a generalized version explains generic procrastination, which also occurs because the procrastinator registers the present moment's prematurity, when premature performance would—by error or inefficiency—ultimately cause the work to be inferior. Writing procrastination differs from generic procrastination in that motivation itself, its arousal depending on a deadline's approach, often is the generic procrastinator's missing component.

Despite the explanation's generalizability, I'll continue to focus on forms of procrastination specific to writing, for which I prescribe forethought, the near opposite of "getting anything down." This is not to say that lawyers don't think much. Good lawyers do immense amounts of research before writing briefs, and significant thought occurs in the interstices of cases and statutes, but lawyers seldom prepare by engaging in sustained thinking. The press of business squeezes out deeper thinking, but not in the notorious, direct way, brute lack of time. Lawyers could allocate a few hours for contemplation, compensated by greater fluidity following submersion in thought. Insufficiency of work time isn't necessarily part of deep-thinking deficiencies, since the lawyer is squeezed when time is ample. The problem lies elsewhere. The kind of thinking suffering deficiency doesn't consist of organizing the lawyer's ideas, but inventing new ones; that can't be scheduled, because its onset can't be willed.

Next part: Solutions

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